Linda Davidson hadn’t planned on a career in mortgage lending. She was doing fine in retail sales.
However, in 1988 Davidson decided to become a loan originator and ever since has had an ongoing goal of improving her production, continuing to learn, and helping others achieve their own success.
Davidson definitely made a wise long-term career choice. Her personal volume in 2013 was 245 loans and $38.4 million for Service First Mortgage in Garland, Texas and she is on track to do about the same for 2014.
Davidson had been the Operations Manager for a chain of retail stores that was downsizing, a good time to find a new profession. “My dad suggested that I interview for a loan officer position with a small mortgage broker, although I didn’t know anything about the lending profession,” she said. “I went for the meeting mainly for the interview experience, because I had learned the job was 100 percent commission. That concerned me because I had four young children.”
However, she took the job and began her two week “on the job” training. “I was scheduled to be trained with Fannie and Freddie Mac as well as FHA programs, but the person who was supposed to train me didn’t have time to teach FHA so I reviewed the 4155 manual on my own. My initial focus was on moderate to low-income borrowers and this is still my primary niche.”
She enhanced her self-training with the support of a couple of underwriters that the office was brokering to at the time. “They provided invaluable help with the mechanics of loan packaging,” Davidson said. “I would ask each time how I could improve my file and they would provide ideas on how to make it better. I wanted to know how I could have structured the loan better or had better documentation and they were very gracious to help me along the way.”
Davidson began generating business by meeting with Realtors. “My step-mom was a real estate agent and suggested that talking with Realtors would be a good place to start. I would go to offices and talk to anyone who would meet with me.”
She also joined the Women’s Council of Realtors and local MLS groups to expand her network. “This was critical because I didn’t have many relationships at that point,” she said. “I gradually got to know the Realtors and received my first referrals. It was a basic but effective strategy. If I was starting over today, I’d probably take a similar approach.”
She expanded her marketing by holding homebuyer seminars for agents; sharing information about first-time homebuyer programs, Finance 101 and Giving Back to Veterans.
In 2007 when the market was changing so rapidly, Davidson also created a weekly Market Update that covers a variety of topics of interest to real estate agents and other strategic partners. “We started with a 100 person distribution and now e-mail it to over 5,000 of our combined contacts (hers and other branch originators),” she said.
A couple of years ago, Davidson started publishing another weekly e-mail bulletin—Ask The Expert— which highlights a single topic such as FHA updates, calculating closing costs, new USDA programs and Converting an Existing Home to Rental. “Both of these pieces help to brand us as the expert.”
Realtors welcome the educational and timely focus of the two newsletters. “I’ve heard agents say ‘we get canned stuff from other originators but I always read your material,’” she noted.
Agents also appreciate her offer of Six Ways to Reach Us, which includes Facebook, office and cell phone, e-mail, Website, and a special phone app. “We include that message that agents can always reach us one way or another on all of our major contacts. We don’t want them to wonder if we’re going to be available.”
One of Davidson’s early lessons was the value of databasing. “At a seminar I learned more about the importance of obtaining customer information so that you can continue staying in touch with them,” she said. “I previously hadn’t kept good records of closed loans and wasn’t able to adequately communicate with past customers.”
She currently contacts her customers about 16 times throughout the year, usually through e-mail notices that include:
- Holiday greetings
- Helpful tips such as “It’s time for our daylight savings change”
- Economic news
- January tax letter to remind them of potential deductions
“We also have at least one call a year, which usually involves a mortgage review,” she said.
Davidson also uses social media tactics to stay in touch with customers and prospects. “I will post different items on Facebook at least once a day and we also have a service (Keep Current Matters) that adds other notices, along with charts and graphs.”
It didn’t take too long for Davidson to embrace the value of branding. “Every marketing strategy we do with strategic partners and customers helps brand us as the experts,” she said. “We want customers to be aware that we know mortgage lending and also that we are government specialists, which accounts for about 60 percent of our business. Each of our loan officers (as well as myself and the majority of the support staff) have their FHA Certification, which continues to strengthen our brand and knowledge.”
In addition to the specific marketing actions, Davidson and staff make a point to include specific messages on their website and elsewhere, such as:
“Helping clients successfully create their dream.”
“Recommended without reservation.”
“Successfully creating homeownership.”
“We include these statements in various online and print materials and whenever possible highlight them in our conversations with Realtors and others.”
During her second year as an originator, Davidson attended a Todd Duncan Sales Mastery conference and learned more about managing a business. “This was a very important lesson that emphasized the importance of having systems in place. For example, if I got referrals it was critical that we could handle them. That sounds so simple now but many originators don’t have sufficient systems in place for closing on time, processing loans, coordinating the appraisal procedure and so on. This was a major reminder that if you do something more than once, there should be a checklist and system for it; one that everyone involved follows every time.”
After the conference, Davidson began developing specific systems and procedures. “One of our most critical guidelines is ‘Never Close Late or Ugly.’ We always want to close on time and without problems and customer concerns. I never want customers to call us with a problem.”
She stressed that the simple concept has made a major difference. “If I don’t have to put out fires on the back end, which is so common in our business, then I’m able to concentrate on developing business.”
The Team Works
In 2009, Davidson expanded operations from her own originating team to a full branch office that now has 22 people including eight loan originators. “There is definitely a challenge in originating and managing,” she said. “However it’s been a great experience.”
To support her own production, Davidson currently has one assistant who handles a variety of functions, along with the back-up of branch processing and other staff. “I talk with all of my customers and meet face-to-face with approximately 20 percent of them, although I’ll meet with everyone who wants to. My assistant will also take some of their applications.”
Another key contributor is her son, Craig Brown, the Branch Marketing Manager who is responsible for all non-originating operations, including marketing, budgeting, systems and other areas. “He had the right combination of education (with an MBA) and diverse experience with major companies,” Davidson said. “He has helped take us to a whole new level of success since coming on board in 2012.”
While working with family members can be challenging, Davidson stressed that their office arrangement has been effective and enjoyable. “We understand that we both like things done in a certain way. It has worked out very well.”
Davidson looks forward to continuing to grow both her personal production and the branch’s volume. “Of course, we want to expand our reputation as the most knowledgeable lender in the market and to increase our branch growth. I’m excited about the future.”
She will also continue seeking new learning opportunities. In addition to the Duncan Sales Mastery and previous Building Champions conferences, she regularly monitors a variety of publications and online news sources. “There are always good reminders of things we need to do,” Davidson said. “Just like professional athletes have coaches, I think we need to be developing new ways to be better at our jobs. Also, we like to be the first to share information with our partners; to be the source for industry news and new ideas.”
David Robinson is Associate Editor of Broker Banker.